Spring 2016
News Briefs

MGE's Blount Station: Changing landscapes

MGE's Blount Station: Changing landscapes

Driving down East Washington Avenue in Madison from the state capitol, you can't miss the four tall stacks that sit atop the MGE Blount Generating Station on East Main Street or the new apartment buildings and businesses taking shape on Madison's near east side. Most of the residents that live in the new apartment buildings along East Washington are likely unaware of the history of MGE's Blount Station. MGE and Blount have played critical roles in the growth and development of this area and the entire city of Madison dating back to the mid-1800s.

Older coal-fired steam boilers supplied high pressure steam to run the turbine generators. As part of MGE's commitment to cleaner energy sources, MGE has eliminated all coal combustion at Blount. The boilers run on cleaner burning natural gas. The conversion to gas is happening at many older coal-fired power plants across the country, largely in response to tighter federal emissions regulations, pressure from customers and environmental groups for green energy sources, and the increased supply and decreased cost of natural gas.

MGE's predecessor company, Madison Gas Light and Coke Co., manufactured coal gas at the site in 1855 and ended it sometime around the mid-1940s when pipeline natural gas was available in our area. It wasn't until 1896 that Madison Gas Light and Coke became Madison Gas and Electric Co. The name has stood for 120 years since then.

Electricity arrives in 1883

The first demonstration of electricity in Madison occurred in 1883 when a small electric dynamo was installed by Van Depoele Electrical Co. of Chicago at the Fitch Brothers Laundry located at 7 E. Main St. It provided lights to a few nearby stores.

The first real electric utility service came to town in 1885 when a small generating plant was built at the Hausman Brewery at the corner of State and Gorham streets by the Madison Electric Light and Power Co. In 1890, Madison Electric Light and Power received a nonexclusive franchise from the city council and began illuminating 22 new arc lights. They even changed them to red globes during the Badger football season!

Early accounts of electric service companies often interchangeably refer to Madison Electric, Madison Electric Light, and Madison Electric Light and Power. We believe historical accounts of Madison Electric and Madison Electric Light actually refer to Madison Electric Light and Power. Investigation of Wisconsin incorporation papers shows Madison Electric Light and Power was established in 1882, in competition with Madison Gas Light and Coke.

In 1889, the Madison Electric Light and Power constructed a steam engine-driven electricity generating plant at 633 Williamson St. This plant was located between the current Machinery Row building and the former Fauerbach Brewery plant.

In 1892, Four Lakes Light and Power Co. purchased Madison Electric Light and Power. Four Lakes Light and Power was the creation of several powerful local businessmen, two of whom were also major owners of Madison City Gas Light and Coke.

One of the largest customers for electricity was the Madison City Railway Co., an electric streetcar company established in 1892 to replace the earlier mule-powered streetcar service.

In 1896, investors from New York and Philadelphia bought both Madison City Gas Light and Coke and Four Lakes Light and Power, combining them to become Madison Gas and Electric.

A few years earlier, Four Lakes Light and Power joined with the Madison City Railway Co. to begin planning for a new powerhouse. When the railway firm went into receivership in 1896, the newly formed Madison Gas and Electric acquired its share in the powerhouse project. The powerhouse was completed in 1902 and known as Blount Station. It was the first gas-powered, central station electric plant in the United States.

Blount today

In 2005, MGE rolled out Energy 2015, a long-term energy plan that included elimination of coal at Blount and conversion to natural gas. Conversion to gas meant the retirement of older lower-pressure boilers and four steam turbine generators, roughly half the 200-megawatt capacity of Blount. Today, two high-pressure, gas-fired boilers provide high-pressure steam to two 50-megawatt generators for a total of 100 megawatts.

Today, Blount Station plays a critical role in helping meet MGE's electric energy capacity requirements especially during peak-energy demand periods.